Carol Bruess

Carol Bruess

The first installment of our very own “Humans of St. Thomas” was received (hurrah!) with great enthusiasm. And so, as promised, here goes another portrait of a very cool human in our midst.

Meet Steven Winkel, a St. Thomas inhabitant who, despite a busy finals week that made his work ever more challenging, graciously granted me a peek into his hobbies, life, loves, fears and passions – as well as a few of the super gross (some not printable in The Scroll) realities that are just part of the job he loves.

When you are on the first floor of O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library or O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, you benefit from Steve’s high-sheen polish and perfectly positive demeanor. In just 25 minutes with Steve, an eight-year employee, I discovered there’s so much more to him – not surprisingly – than his fabulously sparkling floors and superbly disinfected bathrooms. The jolly janitor, when not making OEC and OSF inhabitants’ days cleaner and neater, is a dutiful and dedicated dad of three teens, an avid video gamer, extremely afraid of spiders, a champion of Minnesota winters, recently married, a cat lover, and sustains a burning passion for Civil War non-fiction and reenactments. With his contagious and hearty laughter, he shared more on all of the above:

Steve Winkle

Steve Winkel

About his love of reading (maybe it’s why he ended up working in a library?) For sure, he admits, “I’m a big reader.” But it’s not why he enjoys vacuuming amongst the books. “I just was trying to stay on days. It works out so much better being a father, working during the day.”

On being a dad of a 17-, 15- and 13-year-old: “I have three kids. I have two children from a past marriage, and another child I have custody of. My kids are really, really good, to be honest. … Once I got a divorce, my ex-wife moved down to Hastings, and I couldn’t have that. So I moved with them. And I was like no. I did not have children to pay child support. I had children to become a father. … For better or for worse, it doesn’t matter. They’re with me.” He explained that moving into an apartment near his ex was, without a doubt, the right thing for a dedicated dad to do.

Was there anything special on their Christmas wish lists? “One [wanted] her iPod fixed, because it has cracks; the spider thing in front. My son wanted a game – Grand Theft Auto 5. But he’s only 13, so no. No. I’m not going to buy you this, kid.”

On how his passion for fatherhood has always been in him: “It’s funny – when most people asked, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ – it certainly wasn’t, ‘A janitor.’ That was not my first choice. The only thing I ever said, growing up, was to be a good dad. And, I believe I fulfilled my promise to myself.” 

On his position at St. Thomas, now five years on the St. Paul campus after three years on the Minneapolis campus: “I clean first floor library, first floor OEC, pretty much all of ’em. I really love my job.”

And on the dirty parts, especially the bathrooms: “There’s a reason why we wear gloves and look like we’re Darth Vader sometimes going into them! We don’t want to touch anything, either. Really, we don’t – we disinfect things for a reason.” Steve shared more at my prompting, but I will leave the rest to your wildest, grossest imaginings. And after you do – or even if you don’t – I encourage you to thank every janitor you see, for it’s work most of us don’t enjoy even when such messes are made by relatives. (Really, I mean big ewww on some of what these folks have to do.)

On being a newlywed: “I just got married in June! (At) Forbidden Falls in Hastings. It’s right off Highway 61 right by the big mill. This is my second time around so I know exactly what not to do.”

And so, of course, I had to press: What exactly shouldn’t husbands do? “Everything I did in my first marriage.”

On why he and Emily Rose chose a Friday the 13th and a full moon for their wedding day? “June 13. It was actually a Friday the 13th – and a full moon! It was the only one in 2014, and we found out that the next there’s going to be a full moon with a Friday the 13th is 2048. Dead serious.”

A bit about his cats Oscar, Shadow and Mystery: “Mystery is 33 pounds. We call him the lap warmer because he’ll come over – and you can’t even see your lap. We have to give him baths because he can’t groom himself properly.”

On his Civil War interests and hobby: “I love reading about the Civil War. I used to be part of the infantry division that goes to Gettysburg and Vicksburg and does all the reenactments for the Civil War. And if I could say anything – it’s that everybody should try it. It’s really surreal.”

Why’s that? “There’s just a courage those guys had to have to stand there. You’re watching the guy across from you, packing his musket as quickly as he can so he can kill you. But in the reenactments we always aim high, just in case.”

On his favorite video game: “Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance 2. It’s pretty much a guy with a sword runnin’ around trying to battle the forces of evil.”

Maybe the goal is similar to Steve and his mop attacking those high-traffic library floors? He wasn’t so sure my analogy was apt. He did grant (with our simultaneous laughter): “The forces of evil keep coming back every day – if we’re going to look at it that way!”

On growing up in Roseville and why he fully embraces the frigid winters: “I love the change of the seasons. I’ve you’ve ever gone down to Louisiana in the summer, you’ll find out you can’t take off enough clothes to keep comfortable.” In Minnesota, “You can layer up as much as you want to feel comfortable. And there’s no problem with that.”

On his greatest fear: “Spiders. Out of control. No. Out of control. Like, daddy longlegs – makes me run.”

As always, if you know a human at UST, do tell ( I’d sure love to meet them and share their stories in 2015.


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3 Responses

  1. Jenny

    I don’t know Steve, but he sounds like an incredible man. Shout out to the Building Service Workers and all they do for our beautiful university. I’m proud to work with some of them in the ASC.

  2. Dan

    Steve’s a terrific guy–thanks so much for doing this story, Carol. And thanks to Steve for all he does!

  3. Nathan

    Love the variety of individuals you’ve chosen for this series, Carol. Keep it up.
    You rock, Steve!



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